Are audiences ready for an innocuous feel-good comedy about lovable U.S. servicemen in 1968 Vietnam? If so, Disney may have a sleeper with “Operation Dumbo Drop,” a well-crafted and entertaining pic with broad, cross-generational appeal. Don’t be surprised, however, if this old-fashioned service comedy is attacked by those who denounced “Forrest Gump” as a warm-and-fuzzy embrace of conservative ideology. “Drop” suggests that some U.S. soldiers were nice guys who tried to do nice things during the Vietnam war.
Plot is loosely based on a real-life incident reported by journalist (and ex-Green Beret) Jim Morris. Since the Montagnard villagers of Dak Nhe live near a major Viet Cong supply route, Capt. Sam Cahill (Danny Glover) has worked hard to remain in their good graces, so he can keep tabs on the enemy.
Unfortunately, hard-nosed Capt. T.C. Doyle (Ray Liotta), who’s replacing him, inadvertently tips off a North Vietnamese army platoon that U.S. soldiers have been welcomed in the village; the NVA commander punishes the villagers by killing their prized elephant.
Despite Doyle’s objections, Cahill promises to produce another elephant in five days. However, Cahill must convince his commanding officers, locate a suitable pachyderm and then somehow transport the beast through 200 miles of jungle.
For the most part, the film treats the war as more of a perilous distraction than a horrific conflict. Director Simon Wincer (“Free Willy”) bent over backward to make “Drop” inoffensive.
On the other hand, there’s something to be said for restraint in a movie so clearly aimed at family audiences.
Pic is thoroughly predictable, utterly harmless — and extremely engaging. At 107 minutes, it may be a tad long for very small children with short attention spans. But the pacing is brisk enough to please just about anyone else.
Glover is well cast and establishes an effectively edgy give-and-take with Liotta.
In supporting roles, Doug E. Doug displays the same antic charm he showed in “Cool Runnings,” while Denis Leary is unusually subdued and likable.
On a tech level, “Operation Dumbo Drop”– filmed in Thailand and Florida — is first-rate across the board. Special note should be made of Russell Boyd’s splendid cinematography and Rick Lazzarini’s convincing animatronics.